American Axle workers vote to end strike

/ Source: The Associated Press

Workers at American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. have voted to end their nearly three-month-old strike, overwhelmingly ratifying a new contract with the company despite steep pay cuts and other concessions.

The vote, finalized Thursday, means workers likely will return to their jobs next week, ending a walkout that has crippled General Motors Corp.'s production of large sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Workers at five American Axle sites in Michigan and New York voted 78 percent in favor of the four-year deal, while 22 percent voted against, the United Auto Workers said in a statement late Thursday. The union does not release vote totals.

UAW members at four sites voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract Monday and were awaiting Thursday's vote by Local 235 in Hamtramck, which is by far the largest local in the company, with 1,983 members.

Erik Webb, election committee co-chairman for Local 235, said 1,172 workers at the local voted for the pact out of more than 1,500 who voted. A contract governing local work rules and other items at the company's Detroit manufacturing plant also was approved by a narrower margin, Webb said.

Getting the plants reopened
Workers on Thursday night expected the company to call in electricians and other skilled trades workers over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to prepare the plants to reopen, with production restarting early next week.

Company spokeswoman Renee Rogers said American Axle must wait for written vote confirmation from the UAW before deciding when to restart the factories. That could come Friday, she said.

About 3,650 UAW members have been on strike since Feb. 26 over the company's demand for lower wages to match its U.S. competitors.

American Axle has said it needs a wage structure that is competitive with other U.S. auto parts makers so it can earn new business.

Local 235 Shop Chairman Dana Edwards said union members didn't have much choice but to accept the deal.

"I think with the economy the way it is, with the truck sales the way it is, I feel that's what people thought they had to do," Edwards said.

Strike hurt GM workers
American Axle makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars, mainly for GM's pickup and large SUVs. GM accounts for about 80 percent of its business.

The strike forced GM to cut production at or temporarily close more than 30 factories. It also caused thousands of layoffs at GM and other auto parts suppliers.

GM said it lost $800 million in the first quarter and produced 230,000 fewer vehicles due to the strike. But the strike also helped GM control its inventory, coming at a time when high gas prices and a slow economy reduced demand for trucks and SUVs.

GM spokesman Chris Lee said the automaker has a plan to bring its idled factories back on line, but he would not reveal details Thursday night.

Vote for, against the pact
American Axle worker Bill Johnson, 39, voted in favor of the pact, even though it cuts wages by about one-third, freezes pensions and takes away other benefits.

He said workers have to be smart and spend wisely up to $105,000 the company will pay them over three years to ease the transition to lower pay.

Other workers said they voted against it.

Council Bellomy, 32, was resentful that the company has made millions yet expects production workers to take pay cuts from around $28 per hour to $18.50.

"Freeze pension, wages, health care — you name it. They took everything our fathers fought for," Bellomy said.

Workers also have the choice of taking a $55,000 early retirement incentive or up to $140,000 to leave the company.

Under the deal, American Axle will close its Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y., forge operations.